The martyrs of January 15, 1966

January 15 of every year in Nigeria is set aside as the Armed Forces Remembrance Day. It is a day for the commemoration of the servicemen of the Nigerian Armed Forces. It is to also honours veterans of the World War I and II as well as the Nigerian Civil War.

However, in my observation, what most Nigerians seem to leave out this day is the sad event of January 15, 1966, when our beloved political and military leaders were assassinated in the most brutal sectional military coup d’tat led by “overzealous” middle class military officers majority of who were from a “section” of the country. For me, it should be both a day for remembrance and national “mourning” .

The murderers of January 15, 1966, levelled so many allegations against the then politicians as well as the military officers assassinated, but subsequent revelations proved the allegations wrong. The group of the so-called revolutionaries reflected sectional leanings just as their sectional killings showed clearly that their so-called revolution was self-serving, misguided , and unpatriotic.

Ambassador Dr Yusuf Maitama Sule of blessed memory said: “Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa was accused of corruption, but records in his bank details after an investigation ordered by his assassins showed that his bank account was “red” as a resulted of a loan he collected to build his personal house in his home town of Bauchi”.

Late Sheikh A. Gumi in his book titled, Where I Stand, p.121, stated that: “…Nzeogwu also claimed that he killed the Sardauna and others because they were corrupt and had no regard for public accountability. This, again, was a dishonest accusation, as was proved immediately after the coup. Only a few years ago it became somewhat of a national scandal, when the press revealed that the assassinated Prime Minister had died leaving behind only one house in Bauchi, which his family could not maintain because they did not have adequate means. It took the intervention of the government to help make the house habitable”.

Sir Ahmadu Bello too was accused of corruption, but it is important to note that, Sir Ahmadu Bello’s only house in his home town of Sokoko and his Bakura farms were both financed by bank loans. John N. Paden, in his book titled, Ahmad Bello Sardauna of Sokoto, Values and Leadership in Nigeria, p.612 reported:

“…The generosity of the Sardauna is financed from various sources, but not least from bank overdrafts. At his death, the military leaders who checked on the personal accounts of the Sardauna were reported to be surprised at his lack of assets, and in fact, the size of his overdrafts. Their question was, “who will pay the overdrafts?”

On his Bakura Farms Paden added, “The manager of the farm was Ahmad Dan Baba, the Marafa of Sokoko, and son-in-law of the Sardauna… The enterprise was called “Ahmad and Ahmad (A&A)… The farm was financed by loan, which Ahmad Dan Baba paid off after the death of the Sardauna”(P.274).

On the allegations of corruption against the military officers the revelation from Justice Oputa Panel which President Obasanjo reported in his book, My Watch, Vol.2, p.243 stated: “One glaring example was the encounter of Gbulie, an active participant in the coup of January 1966 in Kaduna, and Elizabeth Pam, the wife of Yakubu Pam, who was killed in Kaduna during the coup. Elizabeth asked Gbulie what was Pam’s offence for killing him. Gbulie answered that Pam was one of the corrupt officers who got money from politicians to build a house. Elizabeth produced evidence of loans taken from the bank by her husband to build the house. It took over six years after Pam had died before the loan was fully paid from rents accrued from the house. Gbulie apologised and Elizabeth accepted the apology”.

Sir Ahmadu Bello was also falsely accused of tribalism despite the fact that in the then regional government he led his cabinet members, aids and political associates were made up of people from different ethno-religious backgrounds from across the then northern region. They included Sunday Awoniyi, Macheal Audu Buba, Peter Achimugu, Abutu Obekpa, Samual Ajayi, J.C. Obande, Dan Ogbado, Jolly Tanko Yusuf, Pastor David Lot, James Chu Unwunchola, Sanni O.B. Okin, and Edmund B.Mamiso, etc.

Late CP Usman Faruk, CON, in his book titled, The Victors and The Vanquished of the Nigerian Civil War 1967-1970, Triumph of Truth and Valour Over Greed and Ambition captured Sir Ahmadu Bello’s Christmas message of 1959:

“Here in Northern Nigeria …we have people of many different races, tribe and religions who are knit together by common history, common interest, and common ideals. Our diversity may be great, but the things that unite us are stronger than the things that divide us”(p.98).

Still on the issue of tribalism, it is important to state that the late Prime Minister Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa appointed Gen. Ironsi the GOC for being the most senior military officer at the instance of Mahmudu Ribadu the then Minister of Defence who died in 1965. If he were tribalistic he would have rejected senior for the recommendation of the retiring last British GOC, Maj. Gen. Walby -Everard for Maimalari’s appointment.

Isa Alkali Abba in his book titled Mahmudu Ribadu, p.39-40 reported: “There were four Nigerian Brigadiers then, two Yoruba – Ademolegun and Ogundipe, one Igbo-Ironsi (mother Igbo, father S/Leonian) Maimalari, a Fulani from Borno . Ironsi was the senior of them. The retiring British GOC recommended Maimalari, the Sardauna and Akintola supported Ademolegun and the NCNC supported Ironsi. Young Sandhurst trained Army officers favoured Maimalari as well as some Northern politicians. The prime minister was neutral”.

There was the allegation that a jihad was being planned in order to take over the country entirely and turn it muslim. That could not have been possible in view of the military dominance of the south at that time. Isa Alkali Abba in his book titled Mahmudu Ribadu, p.32, said:

“… despite Ribadu’s efforts, which had to take into consideration qualification and experience, at the time of the January 1966 coup d’etat 60 percent of the officers were from the Eastern region alone…”

Late Sheikh Gumi on his part in his book titled, Where I Stand, p.120-121, said, “This claim could not have been taken seriously, moreso because the facts were there to confirm that an organised military operation by Muslims against any other group in the country was impossible. In the first place, there were no trained military personnel to carry it out. Records showed that after the assassination Maimalari, Kur Muhammad and Largema, for instance, ,there were hardly five Muslim officers left in any serious commanding position in the Nigerian Army. In fact, in the period up to the coup, Muslim officers accounted for less than 20 per cent of the country’s armed forces. These could not carry out any meaningful action, far less control the entire nation, even if they were ever to become successful… Clearly the allegations of an impending Muslim offensive before the coup were not logical…”

Immediately after the coup, Major Nzeogwu invited Gumi on the allegation of stock piling arms for the alleged jihad which he replied: “First of all, he wanted to know where we had hidden the weapons which we were said to have imported into the country. The question really surprised me and so did the tone in which it was asked… I had never known anyone to have imported weapons into the country illegally, least of all the Sardauna. I therefore felt I had to seek further information from Nzeogwu himself first before I could answer him.

“He explained that he heard we had bought many weapons from the Middle East, which we planned to use to wage jihad against non-Muslims in Nigeria. That was why he wanted to know where we kept them. In my prompt response I told him about my ignorance in this regard. As far as I was aware, no such plans had ever been considered by any Islamic group in this country. I spoke with authority because I was the closest adviser to the Sardauna on religious matters, and at no time did he visit the Islamic countries in the Middle East without me since I became Grand Khadi. I had never known him to have discussed war in Nigeria, much less purchase weapons” (Where I Stand p.115).

However, the people assassinated by the coupists were as follows: Prime Minister Balewa-north; Premier Ahmadu Bello -north; Premier S. L. Akintola -west; Finance Minister Festus Okotie-Eboh- east (non Igbo); Ahmed B. Musa-north; Hafsatu Bello (Bello’s wife); Mrs Latifat Ademulegun-west; Zarumi Sardauna-north; and Ahmed Pategi-north.

Among the military and police: Brig. Samuel Ademulegun-west; Brig. Zakariya Maimalari-north; Col. Ralph Shodeinde- west; Col. Kur Mohammed-north; Lt. Col. Abogo Largema-north; Lt. Col. James Pam-north; Lt. Col. Arthur Unegbe- (the only Igbo officer who refused keys to armoury); Sgt. Daramola Oyegoke-west; PC Yohana Garkawa-north; L.C Musa Nimzo-north; PC Akpan Anduka- east (non Igbo); PC Hagai Lai-north and Philip Lewande-north.

Cpt. Ben Gbulie who was one of the coupists in his book titled: Nigeria’s Five Majors: Coup d’etat of 15th January 1966, first inside account p.49 reported:

“There were eight Majors: Nzeogwu, Ifeajuna, Okafor, Anuforo, Chukwuka, Onwuatuegwu, Obienu, and Ademoyega and five captains: Nwobosi, Oji, Ude, Gbulie and Adeleke. Four lieutenants: Ezedigbo ,Okaka, Oguchi and Oyewole and seven second lieutenants: Igweze, Ikejiofor, Wokocha, Azubuogo, Nweke, Amuchienwa, and Olafemihon”.

Looking at the composition of the coupists and their carefully selected victims one will nothing, but ask why only the politicians and military officers of some sections of the country if at all it was a revolution?

Fifty six years after, we are still feeling the impact of the atrocities and missing them so dearly. The huge vacuum created is yet to be filled. May the Almighty Allah have mercy on our martyrs.

Mamman Dauda in a book titled, The Victors and The Vanquished of the Nigerian Civil War 1967-1970, Triumph of Truth and Valour Over Greed and Ambition maintained: “… the 1966 coup changed Nigeria forever and for the worse. It is now in everyone’s interest to bury the past, live in harmony and build a prosperous future for all Nigerians”.

Permit me to “solute” our fallen heroes. To our gallant soldiers still serving, I salute you for sacrificing your “comfort” under the “sun” and in “rain” for our general well-being . We cannot thank you enough!

May God bless Nigeria!

Nurudeen Dauda,
[email protected]